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Oct 21st
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

Long Live the Linguini

Long Live the Linguini

Celebrating 30 years, Ristorante Italiano's bright flavors and generous portions ensure its distinction as a local favorite

I'm fortunate to occasionally work in Branciforte Plaza, where the aroma of Ristorante Italiano's roasting garlic wafts across the parking lot. Many reasonably priced specials grace the lunch menu, which I happily order to savor in the office. One day, as the sun set, waves of laughter emanate from the heated patio deck, where groups gather to relax after work, and families celebrate birthdays. On the building's exterior, an extraordinary three-story mural depicting an Italian avenue adds a whimsical touch.

In the restaurant's main dining area, where ceiling joists are painted a lively green and autographed straw-encased Chianti bottles commemorate dinners of the past, subdued lighting and romantic booths set the stage for the spectacle of Italian specialties. A ceiling fan turned slowly, barely rustling the thin leaves of a tall parlor palm in the solarium-like front room.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

All Sauced Up

All Sauced Up

On an unassuming stretch of Soquel Drive, El Chino Mexican Deli Restaurant occupies a narrow storefront.

Inside, lively fiesta music plays on the stereo, decorative eaves with clay tiles jut from the walls, and healthy live plants crawl across rafters, creating the comfortable illusion of dining in a sidewalk cantina.

The list of weekday lunch specials ($5.85 to $7.50) includes avocado-chicken salad, enchiladas, chili rellenos and carne azada burritos. We were drawn to the generously plated house specialties, each of which occupied half of their oval pottery platters.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Two Sweet for Words

Two Sweet for WordsBehold the beautifully luscious treats of local chocolatiers, Richard Donnelly and Ian and Mary Rose Mackenzie
Behind an attractive storefront on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, Richard Donnelly makes internationally award-winning chocolates and truffles. At the front door, customers gather in the small retail space. Bookshelves and tables hold pre-packaged sweets, and a glass cabinet displays available truffle flavors. In the open kitchen, chocolate is being mixed and candies are laid out for packaging. Much of the work here is done by hand—the hand of a master.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Offal Good

Offal Good

Enlightened chefs insist that if we are to eat animals, we must respect them. This calls for a humane life and death, as well as making use of everything they sacrificed. Pondering that philosophy, I waited in line at Taqueria Vallarta studying the new brightly-colored, backlit menu, where lengua (tongue) is one of many meat choices. As I waited at a small table by the window, I was apprehensive. The tongue, after all, was designed to withstand bites.

Waiting to eat something I've never before tried brought forth an unattractive memory. After eating blood sausage as a teenager at a pique-nique on a beach in Normandy, my intestines were so immediately insulted that I sprinted to the nearest WC.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

A Night To Remember

A Night To Remember

There’s enough fun, flavor and festive food at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails to keep you engaged for hours

Oh, these are crispy balls of ginger goodness.” Now, I was certain somebody at the dinner table uttered that statement. I just could not recall which one of us did. There were three of us at a recent visit to 515 Kitchen and Cocktails and you see, it’s the latter part of the moniker of the popular Santa Cruz restaurant that must have gotten us all into some (good) trouble.

“Cocktails.”

Well, in this case it was a bottle of 2008 Byron Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, estate bottled and loads of fun for the palate—an embraceable treat with hints of anise, black cherries and Asian spices. Did we imagine the smoky vanilla?

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Spice Island

Spice Island

Whether it's the lunch buffet or a selection from the extensive menu, Royal Taj offers vegetarians and carnivores exotic flavors

Mintel Market Research calls Indian food the fastest-growing ethnic cuisine, and those of us who have enjoyed the world of spices at Royal Taj for almost 20 years know why. For those who are not familiar with Indian food, the daily lunch buffet ($8.95) provides a broad introduction. Alternatively, at both lunch and dinner, the menu offers main course specialties both à la carte and served as a meal with rice, flatbread, yogurt sauce and salad.

Dal refers to the family of pulses from lentils to garbanzo beans, which are stewed in vegetarian curries and ground into high protein flour for breads and batters. Dal Makhni ($7.50/$10.50) is primarily urad dal, a small black-skinned bean with a white interior. This thick curry, the color of Texas chili beans, was flavored with whole and ground spices, and mildly piquant.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Adventures in Dining

Adventures in Dining

For a New Year's Resolution this year, I challenged myself to be increasingly adventurous, culinarily speaking. But as I planned my undertakings, I did not expect them to include sitting at the tip of the Municipal Wharf as a powerful storm moved in. But it was cold and dreary, and the previous deluge had overwhelmed my sump pump, extinguishing the water heater. I needed some hot clam chowder, and I needed it immediately.

The Dolphin Restaurant has served seafood for two decades in a tiny building, as well as through a take-out window. Since its purchase two years ago by Mark Gilbert Ventures, which also owns a large seafood grill as well as a gift shop on the wharf, a glass-walled patio has increased the seating dramatically.

It was odd that the wharf's toll booth was closed, as well as many businesses. I would learn later of a power outage. Colorful flags waved wildly and seagulls with wings extended hung motionless in the strong wind. A flock of feathery grebes and families of sea lions bobbed on brown and grey waves, which rolled by in rapid succession. A crack of lightning split the sky farther south.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Full of SmoQe

Full of SmoQeThe new SmoQe brings BBQ and wood-fired pizzas to Aptos
The warm smell of smoke mingled with the scent of simmering barbecue sauce.  At SmoQe, food is prepared the way our ancestors cooked it—over a wood fire. And if the mostly full house on my last lunchtime visit is any indication, they are going to need a bigger parking lot.
Conversation echoed off the cement floor in the refurbished pizza parlor building. We took a seat and studied the menu, which posed difficult decisions, creative spelling aside. Although orders are placed at the counter, diners are treated to cloth napkins and real silverware, and the “plastic” soda cups are 100 percent compostable.
Our six meals were delivered sporadically, but all within a few minutes. A half pound of peel-and-eat Hot ’n’ Spicy Shrimp ($11) was seared in the wood-fired oven and seasoned with both chipotle and smoked paprika, giving them a depth of hot spice.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Return to the Beach

Return to the Beach

It’s that wonderful time of year when wildly crashing waves put on an energetic winter show. There is also no wait for a table at favorite beachfront restaurants, including Beach Street Cafe, where you can enjoy champagne brunch any day of the week.

In this century-old stucco structure with worn wood floors, an extensive collection of art prints by Maxfield Parrish hang from paneled walls. His illustrations advertised products, graced the covers of magazines such as Hearst and Harpers, and brought life to children’s storybooks. Turning from the art, I looked out large windows to see the tips of the Main Beach waves.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Staff for Life

Staff for LifeFabulous service and fresh, home-baked quality make Jeffery's a local favorite
On weekday mornings, waitresses bustle between tables with pots of hot coffee, and arms full of steaming plates. Five of them have each been with Jeffery's Restaurant for 30 years, and they greet numerous customers by name and with hugs.

Jeffery Walsh began bussing tables in his father's business, Golden West Pancakes, working his way up to vice president and general manager of the 18-restaurant chain. In the 1970s, he set out to differentiate his restaurants from competitors Denny's and IHOP by moving away from industriall packaged foods. Gravy should be made from the drippings of roasted beef, he thought, vegetables should be fresh, and soup should not come from cans. And so he set out to design a new menu. It was so well done that his chowder soon won second place at the annual Clam Chowder Festival.
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Field Work

Santa Cruz Mountain winemakers explain how the harvest works, and what kind of wine to expect from this year's crop

 

Libra's Two Choices

Libra (our last week) is the sign of creating right relations and values. In Libra we are asked to choose how to be, our identity in the world. We can maintain a hermetic sealed-off attitude (my life, my work, my money, etc.) or we can gain knowledge of world events and learn more about those in need. Libra is a group sign—self with others. Here are some events occurring in our world this week concerning food, poverty, spirituality, values and global realities. The UN (a spiritual experiment) each month places a “light” upon world problems. This week a light shines on Rural Women, Farms, Food & Poverty. Before we choose to respond we must have knowledge. “So we can each do our part.” Oct. 15 - International Day of Rural Women (unrecognized with few resources); Oct. 16 - World Food Day & Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth; Oct. 17 - Eradication of Poverty Day (international). During the month of Libra (with Saturn exalted), we pause, contemplate and assess what it is we know, don’t know, and need to know. Libra receives and distributes Ray 3 of divine intelligence, right relations, right choice and right economy (Venus). Use your intelligence “tips the Libran scales” in terms of being able to see and then choose between the two paths Libra offers (return to the past or step forward into Scorpio’s Discipleship). Libra (the oscillating light) prepares us for the great tests and conflicts in Scorpio. In Libra we are subtly tested as we learn the nature of polarized energies (s/he loves me, s/he loves me not). In Libra we learn more about ourselves through others. Libra’s Ray 3 asks us to become more adaptable and skillful. And then we are to teach each other what we know. In Libra, we all become teachers. In all these ways love is cultivated.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Docs Without Borders

United Nations Association Film Festival showcases documentaries from around the globe
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